Over 200 people packed themselves into a rented space in Downtown North, an area basically devoid of art galleries, for the opening night of the Hung Jury art show on Saturday, February 25. The 12 artists shown were brought together by curator and Massachusetts College of Art and Design graduate student Susan Metrican. The show was funded entirely by 90 of those attendees.
Emerging artists face a paradox in their attempts to show their work: museums and established institutions look for those who have already had their first gallery show . Many galleries play it safe by sticking to established artists, so how do new artists get their foot in the door?
“If artists want something to happen they have to make it happen,” Metrican said. “You can’t wait for a gallery to contact you. You have to get creative and find different routes of funding.”
Metrican did just that, putting on the show she’s been wanting to since this past summer with the help of the online funding platform Kickstarter. Kickstarter allows users to propose creative projects online, leaving their fate to anyone willing to find them. The Hung Jury show raised over $3,000 in about two weeks.
“In the past, this would have happened through less people donating larger amounts, probably from the artists, parents or friends,” said Jenny Gibbs, Assistant Dean of the Graduate Programs at MassArt. “It would’ve taken longer and then the audience of the show is limited. It would’ve been much harder to have a grassroots initiative without Kickstarter.”
Along with providing the funds needed to rent the show space and transport the art, Kickstarter helped bring a lot of attention to the show. The Kickstarter page was shared through Facebook and the artists’ mailing lists, spreading through multiple networks. On opening night, Metrican didn’t even know many of the people there.
“It really showed that there are people curious about the project and about art happening here,” Metrican said. “There’s just not enough options in Boston. First Fridays isn’t enough to sustain me as an artists, and there aren’t a lot of galleries willing to show new work. But people want art in their communities.”
With Kickstarter and other alternative funding options like grants, artists will be able to make their own spaces in the city without relying on established galleries. Metrican explains that so many artists are continually graduating from these MFA programs, but if they don’t have the chance to show their work, they leave Boston.
“With Kickstarter, I had to communicate with people, and that makes sense because the whole point of putting the show together is that I’ll be here after grad school,” Metrican said. “I need to live here as an artist, I want my friends and I to show our work and I want to be part of a community.”
This project came to fruition through Gibbs’s “Professional Practice for Artists” class, which started in the fall. The course was designed to help students with their next step.
“Projects like Susan’s coming together are so exciting, because it shows the artists can make opportunities for themselves,” Gibbs said. “We need to get students stirred up because its not something we can do institutionally, but the communities are excited about public art.”
Through alternative funding, a relationship is developing between the community and the artists that circumnavigates exclusive institutions. Ryan Arthurs, a fellow MassArt grad student and an artist featured in Hung Jury, felt the exhibition played an important role in this dynamic.
“Part of the decision behind the show was to inject some fresh energy into the Boston art scene, as an opportunity to add to a dialogue that is mostly in museums and established institutions,” Arthurs said. Before graduate school, he worked in and managed galleries in San Francisco, where he saw many creative solutions for organizing and funding exhibits.“Things like the idea of a ‘pop-up’ gallery are commonplace in big cities. Kickstarter is just the latest and most grassroots approach.”
According to the Huffington Post, Kickstarter is on track to surpass the National Endowment for the Arts in funding for this year. Crowdfunding is quickly becoming a dominant resource and has the potential to shift the structure of the Boston art scene.
“Part of being a young artist is creatively thinking about ways to get your work and ideas into the world,” Arthurs said. “I’d certainly like to see more events like this in Boston, and I think we will.”